The Native American Bola Tie: FAQ

Is it “bola" or “bolo”? 

Both terms are correct.  Patent applications and newspaper advertisements from the early 1950s used the term “bolo”.   However, the Bola Tie Society of Arizona, which began in 1966, has retained the “bola” name.

Cobbled Inlay Hopi Bola Tie by Sonway (Verma Nequatewa)

Spirit Woman Bola Tie by Sonwai (Hopi)

Where did the bola tie first appear?

It’s not known exactly where or when the bola tie was first invented.  Its origin is believed to be connected to early designs of jewelry from the Victorian era (1837 - 1901).  These designs included metal-chain necklaces with a charm connecting the two halves at the chest, worn by both men and women.  In the 1850s, Native Americans were also wearing shells or pieces of metal on strands connected under the neckline.   

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, scarf slides made out of leather or metal pieces, shells, claws, or animal teeth, were popular attire for both natives and non-natives.   Then in the 1920s and 1930s, American cowboys began wearing scarf slides on their neckerchiefs made by Zuni artists that were carved out of sheep bone and decorated with beadwork, the most common design being a steer-head shape.  From there, scarf slides were crafted out of metal and turquoise by Native Americans, and morphed into the bola tie we know today.  

Candelaria Turquoise Bola Tie by Arland Ben

Candelaria Turquoise Bola Tie by Arland Ben (Navajo)

When did bola ties first become popular?

Bola ties first became a popular necktie in the West during the 1940s.  They were made fashionable by Western shows, such as The Roy Rogers Show, Billy the Kid and The Cisco Kid.   Hollywood characters, such as Hopalong Cassidy and The Singing Cowboy, were always pictured with scarf slides and bola ties.  Western-style clothing was advertised using the “cowboy” neckwear and commercialized as “rodeo clothes” throughout the 1950s and 1960s..

Why are there so many bola ties in the Southwest?

On April 22, 1971, Governor Jack Williams signed legislation declaring the bola tie as Arizona’s “official state neckwear.”  Since then, both New Mexico and Texas have also made the bola their official state tie.  Bola ties are a symbol of the Southwest, worn by anyone from a businessman at work to a celebrity at a black tie event.  However, as they’ve gained in popularity, they’re now worn by people all across the United States from coast to coast.

Are bola ties just for men?

Bola ties are not just for men!  In fact, more and more women are wearing bola ties.  They’re fashionable either as a neck tie, or worn with the bolo piece placed low like a long necklace.   Bolo ties make a statement for any woman expressing their distinctive sense of style.

Citation:

Pardue, Diana F. & Sandfield, Norman L. (2011). Native American Bolo Ties. Santa Fe, NM: Museum of New Mexico Press.

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